Rawlins Gilliland: Holiday Incense And Sensibilities | KERA News

Rawlins Gilliland: Holiday Incense And Sensibilities

The holidays are a season of traditional comfort and joy. But Rawlins Gilliland believes that they're also a window open to the world as it was and might still be.


Bathing in the holiday atmosphere, we adults are given the chance to regain, however briefly, a glimpse of what it was to see the world through a child's eyes. I love the radio promo for Terry Gross's Fresh Air where the man she is interviewing recalls how we, as children, believed our goldfish was lonely in its bowl. His point is to show how the young mentally evolve to comprehend life on a mature level while remaining open to the world around us.

Listening to Terry's guest speak about the wonderment of youth, believing our bicycle was cold in the snow, I realize that I'm the one whose heart tugs each Fall pondering if trees tell their dying leaves goodbye. Or if the remote walnut grove in the forest feels proud seeing its fallen fruit collected or sad watching their undiscovered offspring decay.

Looking improbably at the world through a child's sensibility lens, it's complicated in my case, reconciling a hard-won street-smart savvy with intact kid vulnerability. But this unlikely combo also makes me generationally bilingual. Writing the poetry for Neiman Marcus' lyrical holiday windows in downtown Dallas, as I did again this year, I feel validated as a "grown-up" standing on the street listening as children recite my words while experiencing child-like glee hearing parents quote something I wrote or said.

Sure, arrested development poets ask immature questions like, "Why are people cruel to animals and each other?" Or, "Why is Aunt Norma so fat?" But this unfiltered guilelessness can also win the confidence of the "homeless" man Charles, who has lived near me in the Trinity Forest for a decade. No one before ever successfully reached this lost soul whose demeanor is more that of a skittish ten year old than one turning 54. By identifying with both Charles' tormented fears and determined fearlessness, I've come to gain his trust. He calls me Randall.

Like a feral cat needing to find food who allows no one to come near, it was a victory last winter when Charles finally opened my car door; accepting a ride rather than trekking in tennis shoes through ice to eat the meal served weekdays in a parking lot miles away. As my two rescued dogs and I transported Charles to lunch, the cellphone rang. It was another special new friend offering to take me to lunch, in this case in a home filled with inherited art worth millions. The contrast was not lost in the transcultural translation. I knew why both persons mattered to me and why I mattered to each of them.

I've decided that the secret path to human joy is scrubbing away the tarnished residue of childhood without scouring off its enchanted patina. If my imbalanced student-of-life musings seem to be a never-ending quest for truth and virtue, I'm in good company this time of year. Santa Claus has been evaluating who's been bad or good his entire life. And Santa lives forever.

Rawlins Gilliland is a National Endowment for the Arts Poet from Dallas.

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